Protesters oppose death penalty outside Duval County Courthouse

Death recommended for Donald Smith as protesters speak out against execution

By Erik Avanier - Reporter, Colette DuChanois - Web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As one man learned a jury had recommended he should be executed and another man awaited his execution, a group of people protested against the death penalty outside the Duval County Courthouse. 

Inside the courthouse Thursday afternoon, a Jacksonville jury recommended death for Donald Smith, who was convicted of kidnapping, sexual battery and first-degree murder in the June 2013 death of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle.

Jurors unanimously agreed to recommend the death penalty less than five hours before Eric Scott Branch, a Florida inmate convicted of raping and killing a college student in 1993, was put to death. 

Branch's execution prompted several anti-death penalty groups to gather outside the courthouse to oppose capital punishment. It just so happened the jury reached a decision in Smith's case.

“If we didn’t have the death penalty in our laws, they wouldn’t be offering that to him," protester Jackie Gunning said. "He’s obviously, in my opinion, guilty and he should get life in prison.”

Other protesters also weighed in on the jury’s decision.

“I think there are extenuating circumstances in his case because I don’t think he’s fully mentally competent," protester Jeff Viau said. "But even without that, it costs us way too much money to take vengeance on people when life without parole accomplishes the same thing at a lot less cost.”

Sister Beveral Distefanol said a life sentence without parole is a more appropriate sentence.

"It saddens me greatly. I don't believe any human being has the right to take the life of another human being," Distefanol said. "It's a tragedy and it breaks my heart for that mother. No one would be able to understand the pain of a mother who lost a child to a heinous crime. But on the other hand, I don't think that gives any other person the right to kill somebody."

Smith will return to court March 28 to find out if the judge upholds the jury’s recommendation. 

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.